CLC food shelf helps students through tough times

Central Lakes College student Aaron Lloyd picks up a box of groceries from the CLC food shelf. The food shelf offers free bags of groceries and other essential items free of charge for CLC students who need them. Submitted photo

With online classes in full swing and a stay-at-home order in place, staff at Central Lakes College is working to make sure students are taken care of on the food front.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, roughly 400 CLC students visited the school’s food shelf each week. Despite the majority of campus facilities closing down or offering limited hours, and many students returning to homes outside the lakes area, the food shelf is still available on both Brainerd and Staples campuses for those who need it and remain local.

“Once the online classes started, we also knew that students were at a loss of jobs in some cases, finances had changed,” said Erich Heppner, director of Student Life, during a phone interview. “So more students than before were probably food insecure that maybe weren’t food insecure before. So we wanted to make sure to still provide whatever options we could.”

While the option remains, the format has changed. Instead of stopping in themselves, students can contact Heppner to let him know what items they want. Bags of food and other essentials will then be dropped off at the front desk for students to pick up between 9 a.m. and noon.

Deliveries can also be arranged to Parkway Apartments, which still houses many students. Small pop-up food shelves are set up in the building as well. Heppner said he and his staff have also delivered food around town to students without transportation.


“The students that we visited with, it really expressed how much they appreciate it and that it's a real game changer for them,” Heppner said. “So we feel good about the ones that we're taking care of.”

One of those appreciative students is Aaron Lloyd, an international student who is grateful to have the food shelf as an option to meet his needs without spending money.

Originally from Liberia in West Africa, Lloyd moved to Brainerd last year from Minneapolis to attend CLC. He has used the food shelf ever since.

“It’s really beneficial for we that come from long distances and moved here,” Lloyd said, noting he and other international students are largely by themselves with no family in the area.

“The food that people are putting in the pantry is really helping us,” he added.

Lloyd works a part-time job, but is grateful he doesn’t have to spend much money on groceries, thanks to the food shelf.

He isn’t alone either. Heppner said about 15-20 students a week have made use of the resource since the lockdown began.

“And we also think that if things keep going the way they are that we might have more students that need to access it,” he said. “So we want to stay in operation.


Fortunately, organizations like Second Harvest North Central Food Bank are committed to make sure that happens. The CLC food shelf still gets its regular deliveries of supplies from Second Harvest, as well as donations from Costco and Target. Pop-up pantries at the Westgate Mall hosted in conjunction by Second Harvest, Essentia Health and Crow Wing Energized help meet the CLC food shelf’s needs as well. Personal hygiene items and household cleaning supplies are available along with the food. Heppner said CLC has also applied for grant dollars to keep the food shelf up and running and plans to continue offering food and supplies during the summer months as well.

Those who wish to donate to the food shelf are invited to do so financially, as Heppner said it would be time consuming to sanitize every physical donation. Online donations can be made at , or checks can be made out to CLC Food Pantry and mailed to 501 West College Drive, Brainerd, MN 56401. Donations will be used to buy food and other items to stock the food shelf.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Minnesota FoodShare extended its annual March campaign through April. During this time, 100% of donations made to Minnesota FoodShare will be divided up among participating food shelves. Heppner said he can report donations made directly to the CLC food shelf to count toward the percentage of total funds the school receives at the end of the campaign. More information is available at .

Students in need of food can contact via phone or text at 952-807-3279 or email at .

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .
Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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